Motor racing: Villeneuve's boss admits knives are out

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The Independent Online
BEYOND THE afterglow of Michael Schumacher's masterful victory for Ferrari and the solemn inquests at McLaren-Mercedes over David Coulthard's failure to contain the German, other winners and losers were no less evident.

The contrast in emotions was as stark between Stewart- Ford and the new British American Racing team. Champagne and tears flowed in equal measure at the former, gloom and frustration swamped the latter.

Jackie Stewart commended the diligence of his team and the authoritative drive to third place by Rubens Barrichello after a chastening learning period in Formula One.

Craig Pollock, who unveiled his BAR team this season, may find similar reward in due course, but the initiation is proving far more harrowing than he ever envisaged. Neither of his cars has completed the distance in the opening three races. Jacques Villeneuve could not even cajole his machine away from the grid on Sunday, and Mika Salo's expired a lap from the end.

Villeneuve stomped away with a face like thunder. Pollock, once his teacher, then his manager, and now his team boss, has a vision of achieving success with the Canadian.

However, he remains a friend and mentor and acknowledges the former champion will not wait around indefinitely for a competitive and reliable car. Indeed, Pollock maintains, he will go so far as to advise Villeneuve to leave if the course is hopeless.

"I'm sure Jacques won't want to stay if we can't give him a good car," Pollock said. "I wouldn't blame him. Why should he stay? He is a great driver and has his own career to consider. If I'm honest, I would tell him to go."

Pollock now knows from painful experience, as Stewart knows, that Formula One is a forbidding and unsympathetic arena. The younger Scotsman stirred envy by securing a lucrative deal with British American Tobacco, then scarcely eased his path by declaring lofty ambitions before the off and challenging the authorities over the livery of his cars.

"It's been far harder than I expected," Pollock admitted. "We are learning fast. We have to. We've made mistakes, we know that. But it's not easy, as other teams have discovered in recent years.

"The knives have been out and I can understand that. The knives don't bother me. The laughs do. I don't like it when people laugh at us. You are aware of it as you walk down the pit lane. That's tough.

"I would be happy if the pressure wasn't on me, but it is and I accept that. I'm in the hot seat. People are watching and waiting for my nose to hit the ground. It won't. I am determined it won't. I'm a winner and I want to be here.

"I'm not feeling sorry for myself. I'm not feeling particularly sorry for the drivers. The people I feel really sorry for are the cleaners at the factory. I demand the place be kept spotless and I give them a hard time if it's not. I have to remember we all have to deliver results."

To that end he has insisted that his carmaker, Adrian Reynard, spends more time at the factory than at his private business, and he is in the process of restructuring other departments of the operation.

"I intend to get there, but it is obvious it cannot happen overnight," Pollock said. "The pieces are there. It's a question of getting the chemistry right."

Stewart have gone through the restructuring process, the public torment, the private recriminations, and come out of the other side the stronger for it. Even before Sunday's podium finish they had done enough to secure a pledge of exclusive commitment from Ford.

The racing team and engine manufacturer have worked in tandem to produce a car which may emerge as the best after McLaren and Ferrari. Its potential was obvious in Australia and Brazil. Now they have the result to confirm their development and can bid to become a major player.

They have also an outstanding and now contented driver in Barrichello. The Brazilian, for so long a little boy lost in the jungle of Formula One, has come of age. Third place was a suitable way to mark his 100th grand prix.

Johnny Herbert, the experienced Englishman seeking a new lease of life at Stewart, was on schedule for fifth place until his car expired. The results will surely come his way, too.

Stewart hauled himself away from the embraces of Barrichello, his wife, his son and almost anyone within range to say: "This confirms the car's competitiveness.

"It is also a result Rubens deserves, not only for a wonderful drive here but also for the form he has shown recently. He has grown up as a man and driver. It's just a pity about Johnny, but hopefully it will come for him as well."